Tennessee puts six new counties under ash borer quarantine: Spread of invasive insect's likely inevitable

Tennessee puts six new counties under ash borer quarantine: Spread of invasive insect's likely inevitable

June 8th, 2014 by Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

Scott Schlarbaum, with UT's forestry department and a scientist for The Nature Conservancy, says the hole of the emerald ash borer has a very small but distinctive "D" shape.

Scott Schlarbaum, with UT's forestry department and a...

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

Quarantined counties

* Georgia: DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton, Cobb and Gwinnett

* North Carolina: Granville, Haywood, Person and Vance

* Tennessee: Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Carter, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Greene, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hawkins, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Putnam, Roan, Scott, Sevier, Smith, Sullivan, Unicoi, Union, Washington

Sources: National Park Service, Georgia Department of Agriculture

Emerald ash borer advice

The emerald ash borer quarantine prohibits the movement of firewood, ash nursery stock, ash timber and other material that can spread the pest. Citizens should report any symptomatic ash trees to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and follow these simple rules:

• Leave firewood at home. Don't transport firewood, even within the state.

• Use firewood from local sources near where you're going to burn it, or purchase firewood that is certified to be free of pests (it will say so on the label included with the packaging).

• If you have moved firewood, burn all of it before leaving your campsite.

• Watch for signs of infestation in your ash trees. If you suspect your ash tree could be infested with EAB, visit www.tn.gov/agriculture/eab for a symptoms checklist and report form or call Tennessee Department of Agriculture's Consumer and Industry Services Division at 1-800-628-2631.

For more information, visit the new website: www.protecttnforests.org.

The emerald ash borer is as cute as the proverbial bug.

But the metallic green beetle that's killed millions of ash trees since it first appeared about 20 years ago in Michigan isn't being welcomed by state officials in Tennessee and Georgia.

They've quarantined more counties recently to try to stem the invasive Asian insect's spread.

On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture put six new counties under rules that restrict the movement of ash trees and ash tree products: Putnam County in Middle Tennessee, where the ash borer was trapped, and the five counties in the northeastern tip of the state, Sullivan, Washington, Unicoi, Carter and Johnson, where the ash borer likely has spread.

"Because emerald ash borer has been found in all the East Tennessee areas surrounding these counties there is a high likelihood that it is there, as well," Tennessee Department of Agriculture Plant Certification administrator Gray Haun said. "We feel it is in the best interest of the state to go ahead and quarantine these locations."

That means 27 Tennessee counties - including Hamilton - are now under a quarantine that prohibits the movement of firewood, ash nursery stock, ash timber and other material that can spread the pest, first detected in Tennessee in 2010 in Knox County.

Quarantining the five outlier counties actually will reduce the regulatory burden on the forest products industry, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Now, anyone moving ash products from a quarantine area to a nonquarantine area must be under an agreement with state and federal agencies. The expansion will allow the free movement of ash across contiguous counties within the quarantine area.

Woodpeckers slow the ash borer's spread, state Department of Agriculture entomologist Steve Powell said, by eating the beetle when it's in the larval stage just beneath the bark and killing the tree. And University of Tennessee entomologists have released natural predators that attack the ash borer, Powell said.

While the insect's spread may be slowed, it's probably inevitable, he said.

"It's going to spread pretty much to every ash tree in Tennessee eventually," Powell said.

Five million urban ash trees in Tennessee are potentially at risk, along with an estimated 261 million ash trees on Tennessee public and private timberland. Ash accounts for about 3 percent of Tennessee's trees, Powell said.

Georgia last year quarantined two counties: Fulton, which is home to Atlanta, and neighboring DeKalb. This year Georgia added three metro Atlanta counties, Clayton, Cobb and Gwinnett, that are crossed by Interstate 285, the belt line around Atlanta, said Mike Evans, program director for the Plant Protection division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The infestation typically starts in metro areas and spreads from there, Evans said. He wouldn't be surprised if the ash borer spread to Northwest Georgia because it's been found in Chattanooga. It could appear anywhere there's a state park, if people bring infected firewood from home, he said.

Ash only accounts for 1 to 2 percent of the state's trees, Evans said.

"Georgia, like a lot of other Southern states, doesn't have a lot of ash," he said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.